I hadn’t really run a trail since September of last year. I’ve messed around on the trails near Mt. Wachusett with my friend Tom a couple of times, knowing that I’ve registered for the North Face Challenge again (not bad for a race I’ve said twice now that I would never do again), but nothing to the point that I should have to just jump in.
Winter is a tough time to run trails in New England if you don’t like snow (Tom does, so he does run trails then…then again, he likes running generally and trail running in specific so there’s that too), and my focus since January has been training for my last race. So, this was going to be a fairly significant kick in the pants anyway, but honestly I was unprepared for just how much it did kick me there.
I honestly think it was more a mental challenge than physical, but I was clearly not where I needed to be. It was about 1200′ of elevation gain, but it felt much worse. There weren’t many if any severe climbs, but my heart rate monitor/Garmin app tells me that I was working it hard…and it still took me 2:38:01 to complete.
The course is a roughly 6.5 mile figure-8-ish track – so the half is two laps. Mid-way through the second lap I was questioning whether I had gotten off course because I couldn’t remember seeing certain things, but would be reminded again either by physical evidence (footprints in the mud) or geologic marker (flat, glacial rocks). It’s been unseasonably rainy the last few days, so the course was ridiculously muddy as well, with several areas flooded out requiring either full-on attack through, or some pussy-footing around – more often than not I pussy-footed around until the later stages when it was very clear to me that there was nothing more to be gained by skirting the issue.
I really thought I was behind everyone by the time I was coming to the final mile or so. I was beat, and could barely will myself forward. Over the final…we’ll call it .3 mile, I could see another runner just walking and I figured I could probably catch him if he didn’t pick it up. For a fleeting second I wondered if he had already finished and was waiting on someone, but I needed something, anything to motivate me to finish stronger than what I was heading toward, so I pushed. It turns out he hadn’t finished, and I was able to run by him and grab a higher finishing slot. I finished almost a full hour AFTER the winner had. Remarkable considering I don’t run street half marathons at 1:39:00 and this was substantially harder than a street.
This race was designed to be a challenge for me: it’s just about a month now before the Boston Marathon and I’m feeling jittery about it, about my training, all that.
I was heartened about my pacing last week at the Black Cat 20-Miler, or at least the first 3/4 of it, but concerned about my marathon pace. For me, that race was about getting in a long run, at racing pace, to give me some indication of how the marathon would go. As I expected, I began to break down after mile 15/16, but I ran a consistent pace to that point.
Today, was about running a half at racing pace. Now last year I ran this race to a PR – 1:48:57 – and that was without marathon training, and frankly my headspace hasn’t been good the last few days, running zero miles Friday or Saturday. I was short this week vs. last year by 5 miles. I thought I had a good chance at a PR given my racing of late, and I thought I set an aggressive goal time of 1:45:00. Given I’m +84 miles on the year from where I was last year and have many more long runs under my belt by this point, I felt good about it. This was my lucky 13th race last year, this year it’s my 5th. There may perhaps be a lesson in there.
This is the first half marathon I’ve done twice, so it’s the first course I can do an apples-to-apples comparison with. In every aspect of this course, I crushed last year. There isn’t a mile split that is better last year. My up hills are less bad this year than last – still suboptimal, but no where what it was last year. In reviewing my splits, last year my 10k was 50:31; this year it was 50:05 – so not ridiculously faster, by any stretch – but consistently faster. And I think that’s the message here: I ran a better race over 13.1 miles this year than I did last year, in particular the back half. The front half was good, the second half was better. I like that and I’ll take it.
I’m planning to re-run the Horseneck Half this year, so I’m hopeful I’ll have a better showing. It was during that race that I was suffering a shin splint and I’m convinced that cost me a considerable amount of time.
One update: This year I finished ahead of my friend who made some poop stops along the way last year. He informed me that as he went by the house he eventually stopped at last year, he waved at the people and had a bit of a reunion. I love my running people.
Previous Half Marathon Results
2019: 42nd New Bedford Half Marathon: 1:45:58 2018: 41st New Bedford Half Marathon: 1:48:57 2017: Worcester Half Marathon: 1:51:56 2018: Boston Athletic Association Half Marathon 1:54:11 2018: Clearwater Half Marathon: 1:56:32 2018: Horseneck Half Marathon: 1:57:29 2017: Cambridge Half Marathon: 1:57:38 2016: Black Goose Half Marathon: 2:00:48 2018: Independence Rhode Race: 2:06:32 2017: Upton State Forest Half Marathon (Trail): 2:18:01.9
I’m at a bit of a loss as to how to feel about this race. The last half I did was horrendous after running it with a chest cold and the one previous with a taped up shin splint. I really wanted to hit a personal best, and ideally hit 1:45:00. That didn’t happen, although both were fully within reach. In the end, this was a long heaving “meh.” Sure. I out performed all but two previous halfs, but then again this was only my 9th – one of which was a trail race, so it’s not wholly comparable. I felt great heading into mile 6, averaging about 8 minute miles and then…not so much. I take some comfort from the idea that this is a big boy’s race – not flat, but “rolling hills” – but when you head in with certain expectations that aren’t met, it kind of stings.
It’s funny, I grew up around here. I remember rolling with my friends in Linda’s 1974 Pontiac Le Mans down the Jamaica Way, and never once did I say, “hey, you know what would be awesome? RUNNING this!” And yet, here I was. AND I paid to do it. It had been years since I had been in this area and had forgotten just how hilly it is. That said, at this point I’m just griping.
Normally, I wouldn’t have much to say about the course. It’s not waterfront. It doesn’t go through any historic areas of significant (other than my own personal history, I suppose), and yet when I was researching the elevation profile beforehand so I knew what to plan for, I found a blog that was doing pretty much what this one does: a little bit of everything (actually, I kind of dig how he outlines his race results) but more specifically he recaps his races. In it, he details the course – how beautiful it is. Now, his review was from 2014 and I know the course hasn’t changed, so I deliberately took the time to pay attention. And I wasn’t disappointed. It was a fresh look at an area I so often overlooked as a kid.
The homes ARE magnificent, and the area really is beautiful along the “emerald necklace.” I’d like to thank him for that point of view because I wouldn’t have seen it left to my own devices.
As for organization, it’s the BAA. It was top notch. Plenty of porta-potties, bag check was super organized. The only thing I was disappointed about was that according to the BAA, there was a cap of about 9000 runners: 3000 of whom entered by virtue of their distance medley (a 5k, 10k, and half-marathon), another 6000 or so entered first come first served and for charity, yet, the results show I was one of 6220. Hey, we’re in the age of Trump where apparently attendance numbers can be a subject of some dispute.
Boston Athletic Association Half Marathon 1:54:11
Independence Rhode Race: 2:06:32
Horseneck Half Marathon: 1:57:29
New Bedford Half Marathon: 1:48:57
Clearwater Half Marathon: 1:56:32
Cambridge Half Marathon: 1:57:38
Upton State Forest Half Marathon (Trail): 2:18:01.9
Worcester Half Marathon: 1:51:56
Black Goose Half Marathon: 2:00:48
First, please excuse the late posting for this. I’ve been away and frankly, haven’t wanted to go out of my way to post. This was THE WORST race ever. Hands down. I mean the course was beautiful, but the result – ugh, for more than a few reasons it was terrible.
At the start of the race — 6:30 AM — it was 73 degrees, and I’m guessing no less than 85% humidity. I was already feeling a tad under the weather during and after the TVRC race on Thursday, but on Friday it hit me full on. I was huffing and puffing for the 5-miler, and I’m not at all convinced I didn’t slurp down some wonderful allergens and/or mold spores or something because Friday I woke up with a 100-degree temperature and coughing up lungies like you might read about. I spent the night on Friday coughing and gakking and wishing for sweet death.
This was going to be a S-show of a race and I really only had two options: DNS or just do it. I chose “Just Do It.”
Leading up to this week, my goal was 1:50. I was feeling pretty confident that after all my tweaks and dings and dents I was at the other side and could pull off a decent time here. With the phlegm and general lack of ability to breathe on race day, I was pretty sure that wasn’t going to happen but I was still hopeful that I would best my worst half time, I mean this was a pretty flat course, ocean front with a generally cool breeze, but no. The combination of the humidity and the sick-death-pneumonia-black-plague I was suffering wasn’t going to allow anything remotely resembling a respectable time.
I started with the 1:45 pacer and quickly fell behind. That said it wasn’t until perhaps the 9th or 10th mile, where there was a turnaround in Colt State Park that I saw the 2:00 pacer on the other side of the street heading the opposite way that I realized I was completely screwed.
My running dynamics were reasonably on point – 172 spm average is not far off where I wanted to be at 180, but my stride was terrible and my heart rate was terrible and life was terrible and everything sucks.
ALL OF THAT SAID, My time was my worst half ever. Straight up. No doubt. No excuses.
BUT, it turns out that comparatively, I didn’t have as bad a day as I may have. I mean I have some mitigating circumstances — so does everyone else — but despite my shitty time, I finished about where I would normally finish percentage wise, perhaps a little slower than I may have expected, but overall Dead in the middle. 50.6% for my age.
I had a shitty race. No doubt. But it looks like a lot of other folks had a shitty race too, and I have to imagine not all of them were sick. My race buddy Mike, who was shooting for a 1:45 finished with 2:01, so I know I don’t completely suck.
This will be a redemption race next year, I’m sure, but for now, the humiliation of having put some 3000 miles on my odometer since my first half and this one and finishing 6-minutes slower stings. Worst. Half. Ever. Redemption will be forthcoming.
Up until yesterday, we thought this race was going to be one rainy, wet mess. Then a hint of promise: Weather Underground forecast rain to stop right about race time and pick up again just after my anticipated finish time with some percent chance of rain during. Come this morning, the forecast was clouds and fog, and about 60-degrees. Essentially perfect running weather.
Which was good, because I was going to need something close to perfect conditions: I’m pretty much fully recovered from my piriformis strain, but (damn, there’s always a ‘but’) since I’m an idiot and kept trying to push through, I developed a bit of a shin splint, which is painful and has pretty much kept me from running very much at any competitive pace – and yes, I know, I wrote about a 5k I recently ran and won my age group…but take a look at that pace: not exactly world beating – and not pairing up with my previous paces. My conditioning has suffered over the past several (6?) weeks, but I have been mindful to avoid blowing up like a tick weight wise like I did in December when I was last injured. I’ve been going to fitness bootcamp (although, I do have to admit to feeling kind of low and letting that keep me from going more) and being mindful of my calories. I’ve actually lost weight over the last 6 weeks or so, topping out at under 180 for the first time in quite some time. That mindfulness paid off today, to be sure.
Then there was the pre-race issues. I just couldn’t put myself together. The car wouldn’t start. I couldn’t get into the trunk to get the jumper cables because…the car was dead so the fob nor the button inside would release. Because I took so much time messing around with that stuff, I didn’t get anything to eat. Just a potential disaster looming. NOTHING was going my way.
The Horseneck course is pretty flat and under the conditions today presented I would normally have looked at it as an opportunity to crush my New Bedford Half time. My buddy Duke, about whom I’ve written previously, on top of being a captain of industry also happens to be a certified personal trainer (who knew?) and he taped me up pretty good. That bought me more than a few pain-free/reduced miles – without which this would likely have been an ugly crying hot mess. My goal today was really to be competitive with my Clearwater Half time from January – my first distance race after December – but definitely under 2-hours. The layoffs were similar in scope and I wasn’t feeling optimistic.
About 2 miles in, I was questioning whether I’d be able to pull this off – whether it was a lack of proper stretching, or conditioning or what – I was letting doubt get to me. My internal dialogue was becoming poisonous to my race, so I had to shut it off and focus on other things: the scenery, the pace, distance to go, my music.
I could feel the tightness in my quads – damn conditioning – and knew I couldn’t stop so I had to keep running. It was about half way through that I was becoming quite ornery about it, and that was manifesting itself in fighting with the motorists trying to squeeze by runners along the ancient roads of Westport: by and large there was plenty of room for motorists to pull to the side of the road and/or stop to allow cars in the opposite direction to pass by, and yet these morons kept squeezing runners over and the like. One guy actually got into the race course, and started honking at a woman who was probably 100-feet ahead of me. I burned quite a bit of fuel trying to catch up to let this guy know exactly what I thought about that – he was literally so close to her that had she stopped he would have hit her. Sadly, however, the cluster broke up and he continued on his way: I was pleased that she either hadn’t heard him (doubtful) or she ignored him and kept running her race. I was secretly hoping someone would try that nonsense with me. My middle finger did get a bit of a workout – I’m not sure I’m proud of that, but sometimes keeping fueled means keeping fueled by anger.
Between mile 8 and 9 I was busy trying to figure out what I had to do to finish sub-2 hours; this is a sure sign that I was allowing that toxic self talk back into my head – giving myself an out: “…okay, so if I average a 10:00/min pace…” Allowing myself wiggle room for failing to perform. I had done well enough to that point that I had some cushioning to meet my goal, but it would be close, and this time that toxicity was outweighed by stubbornness.
As my watch clicked over to 12-miles, I knew I had enough time to beat 2-hours, but then the question was by how much, and would I get my Clearwater time? I kept pushing and actually had my best pace since that second mile. Those last few miles were difficult for me as well because of the headwind, so as we made the turn into the State Reservation, with a little less than a half mile to go it was a god send. Flat, generally wind free, just enough to push myself over the finish in a little less than 1:58:00. Didn’t beat Clearwater, which was a bit of a personal defeat because I wasn’t happy with that time in January and after the voyage this year I am certainly disappointed, but it was a personal victory in keeping it under that 2:00 mark.
In my very first half – the Black Goose Half Marathon in October 2016 – I finished in 2:00:48 and I’ve been pissed at myself since that I couldn’t find 48-seconds somewhere over 13.1-miles. From that low to my most recent half where I hit a personal best, I had really hoped when I registered that I’d come close to 1:50:00 or even better my New Bedford Half time. It turns out I most closely approximated my Cambridge Half Time. Disappointing, but not heart breaking.
I may have an opportunity to run a half in London next week (or perhaps some shorter derivation), but unless that happens I’ll have another shot at an improved time next month – hopefully without the issues that plagued me today. Onward and upward.
The course had a total gain of maybe 30′ (my watch says 358′ gain, 322′ loss…pretty significantly because it’s essentially a loop and I’m pretty sure there’s not 30′ of elevation between the finish and start). Remarkably I had a 176 spm cadence, so it would appear it was mostly in my head. My stride was shorter than usual, so I know I could have been faster, basically “remembering” what an 8:20 m/m pace feels like – I could feel myself moving easily between say 9:15/20 and 8:40, but I was letting my head too much control. I’ll be working on that one.
Last summer, I had planned to do the Savage Race in Massachusetts, but has to bail due to injury. I traded my deferral code for Savage to a guy for a Spartan code which became this race.
The Beast is the longest and most difficult of Spartan’s three standard race distances: Sprint, Super, and Beast. Once past Beast, you get into the Ultra or Ultra Beast which is generally speaking some variation of the Beast course, and several Hurricane Heats which are a variation of the race. Touted at 13+ miles, 30+ obstacles. My watch totaled 15 some odd miles and, honestly I didn’t count the obstacles. This was my third Beast – my second time here at Vernon – and (I think) my tenth Spartan race and I’ve found over time that it’s a fool’s errand to focus too much on distance traveled or on obstacles completed.
What started out as a raw, overcast day turned into a bright, sunny 70-degree slice of perfection. Not too hot, not too cold. The site is the Mountain Creek Resort, a New York City metro area ski resort. Unrelated to the race itself, while out on the course, there are definitely signs the resort has its troubles. In all honesty, I wasn’t entire sure the complex was actually still operational and the Wikipedia entry kind of explains its current state. Another proximate ski area, Tuxedo Ridge in Tuxedo, NY has also had its financial difficulties and has hosted its share of Spartan Races as well. Its hard to know if the financial difficulties are related to the willingness to host an obstacle course race or if its mere coincidence.
This years Beast seemed less difficult overall. The thing with Spartan is they’re not terribly innovative and they trot out generally the same obstacles year over year. This race seemed much more of a trail race through the hiking trails of the resort and less the mountain slog that I’ve seen at Killington (oh dear God, the quads!!) and to a lesser degree here last year. There was some mountain climbing but it wasn’t the gratuitous “we’re making you climb this because we can” sort of climb.
I was running with a first time Beast participant and it was a challenging race for her, so I don’t want to discount the level of difficulty involved, its just that it seemed like an easier course over last year. I’ll be taking another stab at it in a few hours so we’ll see how my experience Saturday affects my performance Sunday.
I had been really nervous about how my butt injury would hold up, but it held up pretty well – no major discomfort at all, perhaps a few twings here and there but overall nothing that would hold me up. I was able to hit several obstacles I didn’t think I would which was a bit of a minor victory – any time you can avoid burpees is a good time – and for the most part even the ones I failed limited the burpees with an additional course trail instead. (Innovation!!!)
Spartan did a little something new with the Ultra Beast course this year, by adding a 3 mile addition to the first loop of the course. This really seemed to mess up a lot of the folks we encountered along the way and it would appear a good number of them missed the course cut off to continue. More than a couple were complaining about the hellish trail in that 3-miles. I have no way of knowing, but perhaps that was some of the more difficult trail the Beast course was lacking.
The obstacles seemed to be more standard than they have been in the past: the buckets at the bucket carry were prefilled, the farmer’s log “logs” were concrete atlas stones with handles built into them instead of actual, you know, logs. The sandbag carry was far more difficult than I remember it being in the past – large wreck bags instead of the sand filled pancakes that had been the obstacle – and the Herc Hoist seemed far more heavy than I remember it being, although several days of rain previous to race day may have helped both of those items become more heavy than anticipated.
I clocked 15.1 miles and just over 5000′ of elevation gain.
Overall, not my best time ever – I ran the Men’s elite heat (well, kinda – since my friend isn’t a male, she couldn’t run in the men’s elite heat so I delayed my start) and finished last in my age group and something like 3 slots off last for the heat. Overall though, according to Athlinks, I finished solidly in the middle as I usually do. I finished about 7 minutes slower than last year – we’ll see how I do Day 2 after having experienced the course.
Registering for this one was a bit of a lark. I’d just finished the Celtic 5k earlier in the day and was feeling pretty good about myself. So I started noodling around with upcoming Half Marathons (because that’s a thing most people do, right?) and found this one. It’s not terribly close to me but it did fit the parameters of my customary rule (don’t take longer to drive to a race than it will take you to run the race) and the extended forecast seemed like it would be a good running day. I was hung up on the late entry fee and was desperately seeking a discount code.
If I joined USATF, I could get a $25 discount code – membership is $30, so it would’ve been a net increase of $5 which I was considering – but then I happened upon a 501(c)3 charity partnered up with the race organizers: Donate $60 to the organization and get a comped race entry. Perfect. Made even more perfect is that the Arredondo Family Foundation does some really good work.
Their mission is to empower military families in the prevention of military related suicides and to provide support through education, financial relief and support services.
So, on Sunday night with about 30-minutes left in the online registration window, I pressed “submit” on my race entry. I was in. Now, what was I in for?
Well, according to at least one online write up, it is a good course: scenic and flat-ish, but with a couple of “significant” hills…the second at mile 12! Oh c’mon. Known for it’s blustery conditions, they said it can be challenging. Oh great. I then click on over the the course map (who cares, I don’t know what I’m really looking at) at the bottom of which was an elevation map. THAT’s what I was looking for. Kind of a mixed bag for me. Most of the gains are at the start of the race, then about 9 miles of descent or flat streets. I figured if I could just lump my lard-butt past the first three miles or so, I’d be golden.
Which is pretty much how it played out. The weather was just shy of perfect – a bit of a wind, but not often pushing against me, mostly blowing me sideways. The sun was out, it was on the cool side (low 30’s) but overall pretty nice.
A good group of people from my running club showed up and it was nice seeing them along the course. One guy who’d just returned from a European jaunt of what seemed like a couple of months (I mean like back on Friday…jet lag must’ve really been doing a number on him), passed me a couple of times. The first time he informed me that he stopped at a porta potty but couldn’t get anything going, so he wasted that time. About 45-minutes later he ran by me, telling me that he stopped and pooped in someone’s house. Not the usual conversation, but I’ve learned that runners are generally pretty open about such things. What blows my mind about this is that he continued on and finished a couple of minutes ahead of me. He’s a really good runner and was already convinced he’d have a “crap time” (his words, not mine, although it does ring a little true after telling this vignette, doesn’t it?) Funny, his crap time is my personal record, but hey. Everyone runs their own race.
By the 10k split, I was thinking I had a really good chance to PR – that split was my fastest 10k time.by quite a bit: 50:31. I bested my 10-Mile time by about a minute as well, and by that point my internal dialogue was pretty much talking about keeping moving, keeping a steady pace. Mile 12 was pretty much what I thought it would be. That ascent grabbed about a minute off my pace, I slowed down quite a bit, but got through it. I’m quite sure the cold weather helped me out there: at Clearwater back in January, a similar situation at mile 12 really bonked me out. I was much less well prepared for that race than this, but doubt creeps in: that’s why controlling that internal dialogue is so important.
With maybe 0.2 mile give or take, one of my friends from the running club was on the corner taking pictures and saw me. She got all wide-eyed and yelled at me that I still had a really good chance to get 1:50:00. So I pushed just a little harder, and around the corner was a slight downward hill, so I sprinted as hard as I could that last it of distance to the finish. I’m not really sure exactly where I found the juice, but I did.
My gun time was 1:49:19, but my chip/net time was 1:48:57 – either way I beat that 1:50 time with just a little urging on from someone in the right place at the right time. A little further away from the finish and I may not have pulled it off, a little closer and it wouldn’t have mattered. Serendipity and luck combined with appropriate training and a few friends never hurt anyone.
New Bedford Half Marathon: 1:48:57
Clearwater Half Marathon: 1:56:32
Cambridge Half Marathon: 1:57:38
Upton State Forest Half Marathon (Trail): 2:18:01.9
Worcester Half Marathon: 1:51:56
Black Goose Half Marathon: 2:00:48